2016-06-30
(RNS) Marie Sherlock, author of a recently published guide to simplifying family life, has a confession to make.

"We have two PlayStations," she says. "They're an evil thing in our basement."

A guide for parents who want to adopt a less materialistic, more fulfilling approach toward family life, "Living Simply With Children" (Three Rivers Press) reflects the way Sherlock and her husband, Marty Griffy, of Portland, Ore., have been raising their own children over the past 10 years.

Both parents, for example, work part time in order to spend more quality time with their kids, Ben, 13, and Scott, 11. Their big-picture approach to child rearing focuses on environmental and social justice as well as critical discussions of consumer culture.

And their everyday life, from the board games to the long walks they take together, is about recapturing family values of closeness, fun and relaxation.

There's a misconception that living simply means living frugally, Sherlock says.

"But living simply is about living your values," she says. "The commercial stuff, the acquisitions, are a distraction from that. What simple living does is give us more time for our kids."

Sherlock, a former lawyer turned freelance writer, and Griffy, a research analyst, say they had always been interested in the social and environmental benefits associated with buying less stuff.

But when they had children, Sherlock says, she and Griffy were unprepared for the marketing blitz aimed at children.

The lack of information about raising families in a consumer society, she says, is what prompted her to write the book, which is organized around topics such as peer pressure, dealing with television and marketing directed toward kids.

There is no single way to live simply, Sherlock says.

"Some families take a sheltering/protection approach," she says. "They don't have TVs and they home-school."

She and her husband have other strategies. They limit household consumer items, don't overschedule their children with activities and lessons, and have a lot of family discussions.

In addition to "deconstructing" television and print advertising with their kids, Sherlock and Griffy talk a lot about things that make people happy -- health, friends and family -- and how to live according to your convictions.

The entire family, for example, tries to buy things used, not new. Television is off-limits during the week. There are family meetings once a week, and weekly and holiday rituals, such as pizza night on Fridays and white-elephant Christmas parties.

To tread lightly on the Earth, the family walks as much as possible -- to the library and friends' houses. Every Sunday is car-free. Everyone volunteers once a month at the Oregon Food Bank and the St. Francis soup kitchen.

About those Sony PlayStations: The boys and their father bought the game consoles used, at a garage sale. Still, Sherlock says, "Marty thought, `I'm going to get killed when I get home.'"

Consumerism is all around us, she says. "It's tough. We're not by any means perfect."

For Sherlock and Griffy, simple living also means spending more quantity time with their kids. Although she acknowledges that not all parents can afford to work part time as she and Griffy do, living simply isn't just for the middle class, Sherlock says.

"There are benefits for any economic level," she says, noting that lower-income families are working long hours to keep up with the pressure to buy stuff for their kids. "A lot of people don't want to send their kids the message to buy, buy, buy," she adds.

"By living simply, we're not draining our personal resources or the Earth's resources. There's also a spiritual element ... that acquisitions don't buy happiness."